Radamal Falcao and the specter of AS Monaco

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A week ago, the possible move of Colombian international Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco seemed farcical. Monaco, currently in France’s Ligue 2 (but due to be promoted), may have a Russian oligarch’s backing while allowing their players to enjoy the income tax-free lifestyle, but it was difficult to believe a player of Falcao’s caliber – somebody who would be coveted by most clubs in the world – would move to a team that’s just rejoining first division soccer. The only thing giving credence to this rumor was the “reportedly” €60 million price Monaco’s willing to pay, but with the exception of Samuel Eto’o (who moved to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala two years ago), nobody of Falcao’s caliber has taken themselves so far down the European pecking order.

Monaco does have a pedigree of sorts. They’ve won seven French titles, though their last came 13 years ago. They’ve won five French Cups, a League Cup, and perhaps most famously (outside of France), they’ve made two European titles: the 1992 Cup Winners’ Cup, and the 2004 Champions League final.

It’s a stretch to think that history explains his deal. Owner Dmitry Rybolovlev’s billions partially do, as does the fact that Monaco’s millionaire’s playground is in a France. Not Dagestan. Not the Middle East. Not China. Players can stay in Europe to collect their huge wages, which is why players like Joao Moutinho, James Rodríguez, Jackson Martínez, and Victor Valdes are also being linked with the club.

But the real drive behind these moves may be something even more controversial than Monaco’s billions. Falcao is represented and partially-owned by Jorge Mendes, whose third-party ownership of the Atletico star gives the agent undo influence over the deal. He can essentially, broker a deal to sell Falcao’s rights to Monaco, a deal which, according to rumors, could see more Mendes players land spots with Monaco.

That third-party specter (and the control that comes with it) is going to sour a lot of fans on this move, but like it or not, third-party ownership is a prevalent part of the modern game, particularly with players from South America. Rather than bemoan an arrangement that deserves more than a one sentence missive, I, perhaps perversely, want to focus on a silver lining.

With the recent, huge amounts of cash being infused into European soccer, there’s a danger of all the world’s best players being consolidated onto a handful of teams. Chelsea and the Manchesters in England, the big two in Spain, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain can compete for any players they want. If a player’s willing to go East, Zenit St. Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala come into play. Beyond that, Europe’s becoming a bit of a feeder system.

Like third-party ownership, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. What might change, however, is the number of players in the game. Just as Paris-Saint Germain has built quickly thanks to Qatari investment, Monaco can also help expand the ranks of Europe’s elite, stretching the top talent beyond the handful of teams to which they’re currently being funneled. Yes, that brings Super League discussion back into play, and news of this sort always brings fans only slightly older than myself coming out of their dens with dusty VHS cassettes, ready to show you soccer before it went corporate. At some point, however, we have to toss out the VCRs and accept it. The world changes.

For Monaco, Radamel Falcao would be a great start, and a star of his caliber could justify others’ decisions to go. It becomes much easier of a Moutinho or Valdes to take a chance on Monaco when they know a true, marquee start has already signed on, no matter the means by which he did so.

That, admittedly, is a very thin sliver lining. In a way, it’s a head in the sand approach, though with little to gain by continuing to harp on old tropes, it may be better to focus on whatever obscure positives you can grasp. In this case, that’s the building of a new contender, should Monaco actually pull of this Falcao coup.

Petkovic: Time to “take Switzerland seriously” after Brazil draw

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While much of the talk about Sunday’s 1-1 draw between Brazil and Switzerland will focus on the former, the Swiss would like their share of credit for frustrating — and matching — one of a handful of favorites to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic is chief among those who believe it’s time those on the outside “start taking notice of us and taking us seriously.” As for the insinuations that his side roughed up Neymar, who suffered 10 of the 19 fouls committed by Switzerland, most of them were “very clean” — quotes from the BBC:

“Sometimes if there is a lack of recognition that is a pity because we have played very well. We showed and demonstrated that this team always believes in itself and can achieve results.

“Most of the duels (with Neymar) were won in a very clean way. It was one of the key ingredients to neutralize Neymar.”

“I’m very proud and pleased with the discipline with the way we played. We worked collectively and cohesively.”

“When we are able to play forward and press higher up we were able to do it well and it is an excellent starting position for the rest of our group matches.

“We had real difficulties in the first 40 minutes, I said ‘let’s remain calm, focused and believe in ourselves, push up higher up the pitch and create opportunities to score.'”

Having secured a point in far and away their toughest group game, Switzerland now have eminently winnable games against Serbia (Friday) and Costa Rica (Wednesday, June 27) remaining. Four points from those two games would just about guarantee progression to the knockout rounds.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 2

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Layla Anna-Lee has a new show and, well, it’s unbiased. At least occasionally…

In the second episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, Layla Anna-Lee looks at the best moments from the first set of matches in the 2018 World Cup.

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There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.

Brazil waste Coutinho’s stunner, draw Switzerland in opener

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Brazil started brilliantly and raced out to an early lead, but the five-time World Cup winners — and one of a handful of favorites in 2018 — disappointed in the end as they settled for a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the two sides’ Group E opener.

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Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring after 20 minutes, turning home a stunning strike from distance, off the inside of the post, to settle any early nerves and give Tite’s Selecao a 1-0 lead (WATCH HERE).

It wasn’t Brazil’s first golden scoring chance of the game, though, as Coutinho and Neymar combined down the left wing to send the latter into space inside the penalty area. Neymar played a first-time cross into the six-yard box, but Paulinho‘s scuffed effort from close range was tipped around the post by Yann Sommer.

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A bit of complacency and real lack of urgency washed over Brazil as soon as they went ahead, affording Switzerland every opportunity to get back in the game.

Vladimir Petkovic’s side needed just five second-half minutes to draw level, thanks to some shoddy set-piece defending by Brazil. Steven Zuber took up a spot at the near post, virtually unmarked inside the six-yard box, and headed past Alisson.

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The game’s most controversial moment came just after the 70-minute mark, when Gabriel Jesus was bear-hugged inside the penalty area. Wrapped up from behind, the Manchester City forward was blatantly prevented from getting to the ball after a quick passage of smooth build-up, but referee Cesar Arturo Ramos Palazuelos was unmoved and no video review was enacted.

By the full-time whistle, Brazil had piled up 21 shots (just four on target) compared to just six from Switzerland (two). Despite on-target efforts from Neymar and Renato Augusto inside the game’s final five minutes, a winner wasn’t on the cards and the sides were forced to split the points.

Up next for Brazil is a clash with Costa Rica on Friday, while Switzerland will face Serbia the same day. The Serbs topped the Costa Ricans in Sunday’s first game, putting them top of the group after after the first of three rounds in Group E.

Video: Coutinho’s curler has Brazil flying early

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It took 20 minutes for the Selecao to get on the board, but Brazil looks every bit as good as advertised.

Tite’s side struck nearly halfway through the opening stanza when Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho curled his shot from distance off the inside of the post against Switzerland.

The Brazilians came close on several occasions prior to Coutinho’s opener, but the 26-year-old made good on the misses with his first career World Cup tally.